As subtle as a flying brick.

The Waves of Sand Roll On

In 1957, Frank Herbert was a journalist and writer of short stories, on his way to Florence, Oregon to do an article about the U. S. Department of Agriculture’s attempts to control sand dunes that were shifting. The USDA was searching for something to stabilize the dunes, and they came upon European beach grass. Herbert’s research was for an article tentatively titled “They Stopped The Moving Sands.” The article was never completed, but his research of dune stabilization lead to larger ecological matters, and eventually the novel Dune. This year marks the 45th anniversary that novel. The world of dunes, both fictional and real, has changed quite a bit in the years.

Frank Herbert

Though never completed, They Stopped The Moving Sands (select pages on Google Books) is now a section of The Road to Dune, a companion book to the Dune novels. The section includes the proposal from Herbert to his agent, as well as letters back and forth. Herbert casts the battle against the endless waves of sand in a larger scope, from The Horizon of Aten to the seemingly endless Peruvian dunes. Thomas Flippin of the Soil Conservation Service, director of the efforts to arrest the movement of the sands, commented that “the sand promises a slow death to everything it touches.” As Herbert mentioned in “Dune Genesis” (Google Quickview / PDF), he saw the struggle over the environment as a key issue in future power struggles:

While this concept [of power structures, politics and the mistakes of (super)heroes] was still fresh in my mind, I went to Florence, Oregon, to write a magazine article about a US Department of Agriculture project there. The USDA was seeking ways to control coastal (and other) sand dunes. I had already written several pieces about ecological matters, but my superhero concept filled me with a concern that ecology might be the next banner for demagogues and would-be-heroes, for the power seekers and others ready to find an adrenaline high in the launching of a new crusade.

If not a full crusade, there was the mentality that dunes could be stopped and made into something more permanent. European beach grass was once used as the first of three stages of succession planting (abstract from a 1975 USDA article). Now, this foreign grass is classified as an aggressive invasive species in North America, as is one of the USDA’s earlier choice for succession plants, Scotch Broom.

Oreagon Dunes National Recreation Area was established in 1963, and is now . Some residents one area carved out a community, and formed Dunes City, Oregon that same year. In Colorado, the Great Sand Dunes National Park & Preserve was established as a national monument in 1932, and later expanded into a national park and preserve in 2000-2004.

Elsewhere in the world, shrinking dunes are seen as environmental oases, the last locations for certain species. And ever-shifting dunes can hide armies for centuries, speaking in short to the archaeological potential for deserts and dunes of sorts.

Back to the fictional side: Frank Herbert created a world that Arthur C. Clark likened to The Lord of the Rings, spanning six novels in the “Classic Dune” (works written by Frank Herbert), eleven novels that expanded the universe, written by Herbert’s eldest son, Brian Herbert, and Kevin J. Anderson, plus another six short stories written by the duo. The derivitive works of the Dune universe range from much-despised (see also: the comic book adaptation) to still loved, influential classic (note: earlier RTS games do exist).

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